OC's cheapest grub: in HB
OC's cheapest grub: in HB
Tim Melideo

[Food Issue 2008] For Our Recessionary Times, 54 Orange County Meal Deals Between 99 Cents and $15

Brother, Can You Spare a Taco?
For our recessionary times, 54 Orange County meal deals between 99 cents and $15

How's $4 gas treating you? Devalued homes? Layoffs? Shrunken Los Angeles Times? Outsourced Orange County Register? And doesn't it suck that most of your favorite haunts—that is, if you can still afford to eat out—have raised their prices in the past couple of years? Remember dollar-per-gallon gas? 'Twas only a decade ago, amigos.

The economy blows, so we're here to help. On the following pages are the county's best choices for filling, affordable dining, from high-end restaurants to taco trucks. None costs more than $15 per person, and most check in at less than 10 bucks. Follow this list, and we'll beat the Bush years yet.

• 99 CENTS to $4.99 •

TACOS EL CHAVITO in Huntington Beach is the greatest meal deal in Orange County: two double-tortilla, small-but-filling tacos for a friggin' buck. And don't think there's some roach-coach reproach to this offer: the meats (about a dozen, from carne asada to carnitas to brains and belly) are perfectly charred, the tortillas slightly toasted, and the thick salsa a perfect binding agent. And if the two-tacos-for-a-buck price doesn't entice you, pineapple juice is on the house until it runs out—and, after that, sodas are two quarters. On Morgan Street, between Slater and Speer avenues, Huntington Beach. No phone number.

It's obviously a ploy to get you into the store, but who could argue against IKEA's famous breakfast of scrambled eggs, crispy potatoes and two slices of bacon for 99 cents? An extra dollar adds coffee and two Swedish pancakes with sweet lingonberry jam. Hell, why not get two of these? But whatever you do, leave when you finish. If you should take the bait and actually wander in, you'll get lost in the sadistic maze of showrooms where there are no visible exits unless you're carrying a Billy bookcase. 1475 South Coast Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 444-4532; www.ikea.com.

Hotteok, the Korean rice-flour version of pupusas, are filled with nuts, sesame and brown sugar. A simple, cheap, sweet treat, and the only thing sold by KOO'S CATERING TRUCK. They're a buck each (or 11 for $10); one is a snack, three is breakfast, and five creates a sweetly distended tummy. Find the truck parked in front of Freshia Market in Tustin from Friday afternoon to Sunday night. 14551 Red Hill Ave., Tustin. No phone number.

Tamales are a dime a dozen (figuratively, unfortunately, not literally) in Orange County, with few memorable and most overpriced. Not so the huchepos at LAS BRISAS DE APATZINGAN, a Michoacán-style restaurant in deepest, darkest SanTana. These tamales are formed with sweet corn masa so fresh it contains whole kernels. A huchepa preparada—topped with Mexican sour cream, crumbly cheese and a tart salsa—is $1.99; two make your digestion stagnate for a couple of days, but they're oh-so worth it. 1524 S. Flower St., Santa Ana, (714) 545-5584.

The name says it all: NHA HANG $1.99 RESTAURANT. Rice with grilled meat and noodle soups with plenty of toppings, all for $1.99. They do charge for water, but when you've already made out like a criminal, go ahead and splurge an extra $1.75 on iced coffee. Besides, you don't want to piss off the craggy old men who are your servers. They'll take your order, but they won't take your shit. 7971 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 893-8364.

Ah, the humble pupusa, Central America's take on the gordita, the only worthwhile thing to originate in El Salvador. At EL CHINACO, the stuffed masa treats are served with a side of cojones: Owner Mirna Burciaga bravely took on the Minuteman Project a couple of years back, never stopping the production of her massive, perfectly griddled $2.42 pupusas. If those Know Nothings ever bothered to step in and try them—blackened just so, gooey inside—they would probably march for amnesty, and all would be right on Earth. 560 W. 19th St., Ste. D, Costa Mesa, (949) 722-8632.

"Little Saigon" is a synonym for "food bargain" 'round here and provides the best bang for your buck in the form of a bánh mì (which, coincidentally, is kinda pronounced "bang mi"). Most places sell these Indochinese hoagies for less than $3, but the tastiest and cheapest are at BANH MI CHE CALI; buy two gut-busters stuffed with meat (or tofu) for $2.25 and get the third free. Let's see Subway top that. 15551 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 839-8185; 8948 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 897-3927; 13838 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 534-6987.

A mulita is the bastard child of a quesadilla and gordita: two thick masa disks separated by meat, bound together with thick, buttery Mexican cheese, then cut into four—truly a product of Mendelian genetics. This product reaches its apotheosis at LUCIA'S TACOS Y MULITAS, which also sells great omelets for less than $5. But stick to the $3.75 mulitas—the true reason God invented masa. 16952 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 842-2404.

Their real name is sphiha, but feel free to call the baked specialty of AL SANABEL BAKERY an Arabic New York-style pizza: thin, crispy flatbread cooked with any number of ingredients from cheese to tomato to one simply sprinkled with zaatar, a zesty spread of thyme, oregano, olive oil and other good stuff. Al Sanabel offers 20 in total, all $2. 816 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 635-4353.

Sangak technically isn't a meal, but the best of Iran's four native flatbreads, a sesame-crusted yard of wheat baked until the edges are as crispy as chicharrones. For $2.69 at Irvine's WHOLESOME CHOICE, you get a 4-foot-long sangak; for $1.50 more, you can purchase tangy cucumber dip. Add 50 cents to that, and a much-better shallot dip is yours. Take a hint from the typical 15-minute wait for the sangak—combining either of the yogurts with the bread creates a lunch/dinner better than 80 percent of Orange County's entrées. 18040 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 551-4111; www.wholesomechoice.com.

CHAMPION FOOD COMPANY sells something called ci fan tuan, which look like uncut sushi rolls kept in Saran Wrap. But while the latter is associated with expensive dinners, the former is a cheap, take-it-to-go $2.75 breakfast eaten like a burrito. Pick from two kinds—the savory selection filled with pork, or one as sweet as a bag of C&H. Regardless of selection, both contain a deep-fried cruller called yu tiao encased in a glutinous rice tube. 17090 Magnolia St., Fountain Valley, (714) 841-0398.

Persian restaurants tend to be the most expensive ethnic eateries in OC, so there are few cheap dishes found in this cuisine, with the grand exception of tadig: crispy, almost caramelized rice scraped from the bottom of a rice cooker, then drowned in luxuriant stews of pomegranate and walnut costing double figures when ordered by themselves. But at GREEN RICE, it sets you back $4.99. Don't believe the owners when they classify the tadig as an appetizer—it's enough to feed four. 17441 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 843-0655.

Only in Aztlán can teriyaki transform into Mexican cuisine, especially as prepared at any of the four locations of MOS 2. A small bowl will suffice (and for just less than $5): packed with glutinous rice, teriyaki-glazed chicken, beef or pork burnt to nubs, then mixed with green onions as if it were Carne Asada Sunday. Drizzle the complimentary teriyaki sauce alongside Tapatío, and you have the finest combination of East and Mesoamerica since the china poblana dress. 1008 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 772-8543; 221 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 835-8288; 1933 W. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-5997; 117 S. Western Ave., Anaheim, (714) 761-5283.

Two sandwiches in Orange County justify their price: any good bánh mì, and the $4.65 falafel pita at KAREEM'S RESTAURANT in Anaheim's Little Arabia strip. It seems simple enough—a warmed pita fat with lettuce, pickled radishes, onions and a couple of falafels, then smeared with tahini sauce—but the falafel's heartiness (the best on Earth—puffy inside, crispy outside) combined with roughage is simultaneously cooling and filling. One bite can fulfill your day's quota of happiness. 1208 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 778-6829.

Vietnamese entrepreneurs are branching out from Little Saigon to other OC cities, leaving behind the enclave's low prices. Not so at PHO BAC KY; from 3 to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends, you can eat well for $3.99. Pick from either boiling-hot, anise-scented pho adorned with thin slices of raw steak or brisket, or yellow rice and fire-licked barbecued chicken pieces threaded through skewers accompanied by a bowl of beef broth with all the fixins. Two Little Saigon-quality dishes offered at even-lower-than-Little Saigon prices. 14207 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 573-1298.

Between 5 and 5:30 p.m. each day, you'll see a MITSUWA MARKET employee in the ready-made foods section take a red Sharpie and mark down prices faster than you can say, "Everything must go!" Discounts of up to 20 percent bless the bento-box section. The most coveted is the chicken karage bento for $3.99—fried chicken morsels, rice and veggies, more nutritionally balanced than anything associated with the Colonel's cartoon mug. Be prepared to fight through hordes! 665 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-6699; www.mitsuwa.com/english/index.html.

Tasked with a potluck? Go to HUONG HUONG FOOD TO GO. Pick from party trays of crispy egg rolls fried into bite-sized stogies or grilled-to-perfection Vietnamese barbecue pork laced with lemongrass. But for everyday eats, there's the takeout combo deal for $4.75: a Styrofoam container filled with two home-style Vietnamese items—curry chicken, fish simmered in a funky-sweet red sauce—and plenty of white rice. It's like Panda Express, but cheaper and more compelling. 9262 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 3, Westminster, (714) 895-6551; 9892 Westminster Ave., Ste. 15, Garden Grove, (714) 534-4820.

The $4.99 mini-meal at WAIKIKI HAWAIIAN GRILL should only be attempted if you have a hungry friend in tow, or if you already look like an island. The price is what almost all Hawaiian joints charge for similarly portioned meals of protein, rice and mac salad, but Waikiki dances the hula around its competition with a moist, buttery chicken katsu cloaked in a breading that defies the laws of physics with its everlasting crunch. 13771 Newport Ave., Ste. 10, Tustin, (714) 731-7371.

• $5 to $9.99 •

Ah, MEMPHIS CAFE: the Weekly's eternal standby, where Southern cooking gets the gourmet treatment and gourmet prices—unless it's happy hour. During this time, a special menu lists entrées for $5—and they don't skimp on portions. The buttermilk fried chicken wings are essentially candy, while a bowl of their legendary gumbo—heavy with sausage and shrimp—will coat your stomach for the coming booze. Better yet, the perfect cornbread—sweet, steaming, salacious—is on the house. 201 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 564-1064; 2920 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-7685; www.memphiscafe.com.

Some advice while visiting ALERTO'S MEXICAN FOOD: Get a half-order of carne asada nachos for $5.98. The only difference between the full and half-order is the price. Both have the same amount of freshly fried chips smothered in cheese, beans, tender cubes of steak, pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream. If you still insist on paying for the full order, give us a ring: We've got some homes in Corona we'd like to offload. 15681 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 775-9550.

The house noodles at NOODLE AVENUE is everything you want in a bowl. Choose from four noodle options (udon, egg, thin or thick rice noodle); pick your protein—spongy curls of white-meat chicken, jiggly shrimp, wispy pork slices, ground pork, even meatballs. All are submerged in a lip-smacking hot broth. But most impressive is the price for your heavenly combo: $5.45. 13816 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 505-9070.

A Oaxacan tlayuda is a Mexican epic as grandiose as the Pyramid of the Sun: a crispy flour tortilla the circumference of a basketball hoop, smeared with black beans, then topped with creamy quesillo, shredded cabbage and your choice of meat. The ?only good tlayuda in the United States outside of Los Angeles' Oaxacatown is at either of the two EL FORTIN spots—screw pizza, and treat your next Little League squad to this $5.50 stunner. 700 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-4290; 10444 Dale Ave., Stanton, (714) 252-9120; www.restaurantelfortin.com.

Of all the curries on Earth, Japanese is probably the best—not hellishly spicy, more like a gravy, simple to prepare and cheap. Right next to the famed Santoka Ramen in the Mitsuwa Market food court is MIYABI TEI, an all-around food stand serving everything from sushi to bento boxes. Best is the beef curry, a plateful of the stuff on top of white rice for $5.50—almost every other local Japanese restaurant sells it for at least $4 more. 665 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 754-7044.

Silogs are a subgenre of Filipino restaurants specializing in two scoops of white rice, eggs your way and a choice of meat. At MANILA GROOVE in Tustin, you can get half a dozen $5.99 silogs all day—fat, glistening longanisa pork sausages, a whole milkfish or sole, chicken bacon (mmm . . . chicken bacon)—they're all filling and include free coffee or a soda. 678 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 505-3905; www.manilagroove.com.

Arguably the tastiest ramen in Orange County is at SANTOKA, a stall with no English signage at the Mitsuwa food court (just go to the one with the long, fast line). There, pork bones are boiled to surrender their meaty souls into a soup so rich it's a meal unto itself. But Santoka drops tooth-firm strands of noodles into it and blubbery slices of even more pork. A small bowl as big as your face costs $6.45. Splurge a buck more for the medium, or two for the large. 665 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-6699.

DOSA PLACE serves probably the best eponymous plates in the county: a 2-foot-long South Indian crepe, the center packed with curried potatoes, ends hollow so you can tear apart the crispy crust and dunk into an accompanying spicy sambar soup. Any of the 18 is fine, but Weekly investigative genius Nick Schou swears by the $7.50 Mysore masala dosa, potatoes laced with special, delicious spices. 13812 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 505-7777; www.dosaplace.com.

BANGKOK TASTE offers many great choices available between $5 and $9.99—whole fish fillets, curries, and a lunch special (soup, wonton, rice and entrée) better than the offerings at most Thai restaurants. But the star is the $7.95 khao soy, a yellow curry broth steaming with beef and egg noodles, a web of fried wheat noodles on top. On the side are green onions, pickled cabbage and limes; squeeze out the lime juice and throw in the veggies. This soup braces, singes and warms like nothing since pho—but better. 2737 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 532-2216.

Koobideh is a seasoned tube of ground meat packed onto metal rods and roasted over fire. The Persian version cooked at Lake Forest's HOUSE OF KABOB is the softest, moistest—and also one of the cheapest east of Detroit. Priced at $9.99 for lunch, it's lain on a bed of fluffy rice and buddied up with a charbroiled tomato. You won't ever settle again for any other koobidehs that might taste half as good and cost twice as much. 20651 Lake Forest Dr., Ste. 101, Lake Forest, (949) 460-0800.

Italian sub places cover Orange County; the good ones are few. That's why we're glad CORTINA'S ITALIAN MARKET is still at it more than 45 years after opening. All their subs save for one cost between $6 and $8—even the large, which really feeds three instead of just you. The classics rule the day—prosciutto, sausage and peppers, eggplant Parmesan. And the namesake special—dry salami, cotto salami, capicolla, mortadella and provolone cheese drizzled with an Italian vinaigrette—would cost double at those annoying panini palaces Orange Countians have taken to like Mexican-bashing. 2175 W. Orange Ave., Anaheim, (714) 535-1948; www.cortinasitalianmarket.com.

The green mole at ANA'S CATERING TRUCK isn't always available, and they never tell you when the cooks plan to prep it. But stop by as often as you can for the possibility to try it. For seven clams, you get one of the county's best renditions—slightly spicy, more verdant than anything, soaking through chicken that might be better cooked but isn't per the Guerrero traditions of the mole. The rice and beans are an afterthought, but not the homemade, thick tortillas. If the mole isn't available, try the tacos—a bit pricey at $1.25, but they're big and bueno. On the corner of Fourth and Minter, Santa Ana. No phone number.

Greasy spoons now offer most of their specials in this price category—too much, unless it's the $7.75 chicken-fried chicken at PAUL'S COFFEE HOUSE. Behold this marvel of caloric achievement: a massive, tender chicken fillet that's breaded, then slathered in a pepper-spiked gravy thick enough for waterboarding purposes in the wrong hands. It induces a sort of narcoleptic noshing, in which you're lulled into thinking you can finish it off, but know you'll have hell to pay afterward. Pay a visit to Satan—it's that good. 16947 Bushard St., Fountain Valley, (714) 962-7879.

CAFÉ HIRO's dinners are gourmet Japanese fusion sold at fire-sale discounts. But their weekday lunch specials are even better: For $8.95, you'll start with a brisk salad light on the pulpy ginger dressing. Then, a silky vegetable soup of the day. Finally, feast on an entrée complete with big portions of pasta and potato. The panko-encrusted pork katsu and the sauteed jidori chicken are standbys. But you can't go wrong with Hiro's special entrée of the day, whatever it may be. 10509 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 527-6090; www.cafehiro.com.

You could go to any number of seafood restaurants, get ripped off by the menu prices, and still have to tip. Or you could go to one of CALIFORNIA FISH GRILL's three OC outlets and be poorer by less than $10 after your fish feast. The white roughy, at $7.49, is the best option: served with coleslaw and rice or fries, it's everything those expensive joints serve, minus a few bucks. And don't bother with the tip, you cheap, cheap putz. 3988 Barranca Pkwy., Ste. B, Irvine, (949) 654-3838; 5675 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 777-5710; 10569 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 252-0001; www.californiafishgrill.com.

The lord of the Indian buffet is at HAVELI. The coconut-milk-thickened curry and the rich spinach mush that is saag paneer both warrant another helping. The crispy edges of the fried pakoras are also particularly addictive. It's all-you-can-eat at $8.99, which includes naan so fresh it'll burn your fingertips. 13882 Newport Ave., Ste. G, Tustin, (714) 669-1011; www.havelifineindiancuisine.com.

Order the pork chop rice at NICE TIME DELI, and you'll get exactly that: a big plate of rice dribbled with soy-sauce-stewed ground pork, a tofu wedge, and a pork chop as meaty as a catcher's mitt that's slit into flaps and fried to a bubbly crisp. Tinier stomachs can order the pork chop noodle, which replaces the rice with a more manageable bowl of noodles in soup. The pork chop, however, still shines. 5408 Walnut Ave., Ste. A, Irvine, (949) 654-8542.

Let's say you're in Little Saigon, you're really hungry, and a bowl of pho won't do. Enter COM TAM THUAN KIEU's combos. Seven meats—the better ones include Chinese sausage, shrimp wrapped in bean-curd skin, a pork chop, or shrimp skewers—crowd a healthy helping of broken steamed rice. Nine bucks for a plate that will satisfy a giant, a dozen midgets and two normal humans. 14282 Brookhurst St., Ste. 2, Garden Grove, (714) 531-4852.

Ethiopian food is great because they usually pile three meals on one expanse of injera, the spongy national bread of the Horn of Africa. MERHABA offers many meals in this fashion—lettuce with Italian dressing (a remnant of Mussolini's African excursion), some veggies, and different meats equally prepared with butter, onion and chili powder to create some of the world's best sweet-spicy treats. Go with the kelway kiyeh—meat mixed with spices, then heated to hell, all for just less than $10. 2801 W. Ball Rd., Ste. 5, Anaheim, (714) 826-8859; www.merhabarestaurant.com.

Relive that nervous feeling when you weren't at all prepared for midterms while you dine with the students at the all-you-can-eat, socially and environmentally responsible buffet that is SOKA BISTRO. You'll stick out like a sore thumb, of course, unless you still look like you could get carded. Breakfast is $7, lunch $9, and dinner all of $10. Pay the toll and eat your fill of tofu and organic salads. Be a saint and help out the undergrads by writing their essays, wontcha? 1 University Dr., Aliso Viejo, (949) 480-4000; www.cafebonappetit.com/soka.


• $10 to $15 •

You're asking for trouble if you want cheap sushi. But there is one exception: KURA SUSHI, a rotating sushi bar where plates start at $1.25 and never exceed $3.25. Budget it right, and you should be full before hitting $15. But for those who just aren't good at math or have no self-control, there's a two-item combo for $9.95. Others who proclaim they've found cheaper sushi than Kura may have a hospital stay coming. 212 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 631-3200; www.kurasushi.com.

On Tuesdays between 4 and 7 p.m., the pintxos (tapas) at LIZARRAN TAPAS are discounted to $1, down from the already-great regular price of $1.75. They're topped with such things as crab salad, smoked-salmon-stuffed omelet, salty Spanish sausage, even cream cheese drizzled with chocolate sauce—eat five, and you're set for the night. Eat 10, and you're a freak of nature on the level of that Coney Island Japanese hot-dog guy. 310 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 879-9009; www.lizarrantapas.com.

Ten dollars for an omelet might seem a bit much, but we're talking about the omelets at OLD VINE CAFE. Rising grocery prices have added almost a dollar to their breakfast quartet, but they're still a steal, produced with certified organic cheeses, veggies and cage-free eggs. Order the omelet España—artichoke hearts, manchego, bell peppers and prosciutto—but also ask for a side of their wondrous pomodoro sauce, so you can add the best part of the pizza omelet. 2937 Bristol St., Ste. A102, Costa Mesa, ?(714) 545-1411; www.oldvinecafe.com.

So your out-of-town relatives dragged you to Disneyland and insist on dinner. Forget the Mouse-branded eateries and opt for K'YA, located inside the Hotel Menage. Shun all other items and aim for the bistro menu, on which nothing costs more than $12. The best (and most expensive) dish is the flatiron steak dinner complete with mashed potatoes, vegetables and a port-wine sauce. Aunt May never tasted anything better or fancier, even in Iowa. 1221 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 400-9104; www.kyarestaurant.com.

Think of a prix fixe menu, and most folks envision champagne glasses, three figures and overall snootiness. Not so at AVANTI CAFE. Nearly every Tuesday this year, they've offered a three-course vegetarian meal—soup, entrée with salad, and dessert—highlighting a different cuisine. Stars so far were Hungarian fry bread, Austrian apple strudel, and dozens of different soups whipped up for one night only yet better than almost any potage. All this for $11.50 ($9.50 for lunch, suckers). This month is International Pasta Month—go, already! 259 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, ?(949) 548-2224; www.avantinatural.com.

The chicken Marsala at FLAVIO'S ITALIAN KITCHEN would be a lovely dish at $20, the nominal fee most tonier, fancier establishments on the coast charge. But the former dishwasher turned restaurateur charges only $12.95. And it's wonderful: a thick, juicy chicken breast carefully breaded, then bathed in marsala sauce and served with spaghetti so rocket-hot you'll curse the heavens—but not because of the price. 14425 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 832-3434; www.flaviositaliankitchen.com.

An order of half a dozen empanadas at EMPANADA MAN in Lake Forest is about $11.99, and though it seems excessive, consider this: two make a hefty meal, six feed your staff for lunch. And the extra order means you can pick and choose from their 13 flavors, everything from the traditional (beef, chicken, humita—smoky cream of corn) to those heading toward pizza territory—just try to guess what the Hawaiian contains within its buttery, divine crust. 20761 Lake Forest Dr., Lake Forest, (949) 855-9257; www.empanadaman.com.

It's not just the Orange Circle view that sneaks standby FELIX CONTINENTAL CUISINE on this list. For years, they've translated expensive dishes into affordability, so almost all of their Spanish and Cuban specialties not only register less than $15, but they also come with soup (never pick the pedestrian salad), rice, black beans and plantains. For chrissakes, where else can you get shrimp crepes for about $12 and not succumb to salmonella? 36 Plaza Square, Orange, ?(714) 633-5842; www.felixcontinentalcafe.com.

Lunch is offered at CAPTAIN'S TABLE in Orange Coast College, the fine restaurant-cum-classroom, only during the fall and spring semesters and only on Thursdays at noon. This coming fall semester, reservations must be for at least six eaters. There's no set menu yet, but trust us: at only $12 for a three-course gourmet meal, it's less risky than haircuts at the barber college. Located in OCC's Student Center, 2701 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa. For reservations, call (714) 432-5835, ext. 4.

There's no denying it: ASIA BUFFET attracts frugal people who like to eat their weight in crab legs. You can join this sad club for $13.98. The admission price earns you access to the bounty, the most diversely stocked and capably cooked Asian buffet in OC. But go only on weekend nights or Sundays to experience it at its best; even though it's slightly cheaper at other times, when there's no crab, no frog legs and no snails, there is no glory. 8360 La Palma Ave., Buena Park, (714) 828-5780.

When you want to impress a date, you have to go to eateries such as A RESTAURANT, where you won't fork over date-restaurant prices but nevertheless wow your paramour enough to probably get some later. A rotates pasta dishes nightly, such as a lasagna on Saturday and a Sunday gnocchi plate, each for $13. The trick is to get that date of yours to order the pastas over the steaks. We suggest talking about butchered baby cows beforehand. 3334 Pacific Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 650-6505; www.arestaurantnb.com.

You could get a rotisserie chicken at Costco for $5, but it won't taste nearly as exciting as the bird that BONEHEADS roasts for $13.99. It's lacquered in a thin veneer of spicy piri piri sauce, a South African chile-pepper-based glaze that burns hotter than what slicked those Buffalo wings you downed at happy hour. Moreover, Boneheads' chicken is moist throughout, even the breast. 23704 El Toro Rd., Lake Forest, (949) 581-3474; www.eatboneheads.com.

When a chef advertises a slider, it's usually an excuse for fancy restaurants to justify charging more than $10 for a tiny burger. Amazingly, MANHATTAN SUPPER CLUB doesn't rip you off. Though their slider is $14, it comes with four mini-burgers, all featuring grass-fed, organically raised beef so luscious and wonderful you'll forsake any other kind of beef forever—even In-N-Out. 202 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 978-6161; www.manhattansupperclub.com.

The Lake Forest branch of NORY'S PERUVIAN features a dish named for our times: bistek a lo pobre, a $14.50 supper consisting of a thinly pounded steak marinated in spices and fried eggs, heaped on three kinds of starch (rice, fried plantains and French fries), and served with a salad. For those of you not already part of the Reconquista, pobre means "poor." 23798 Mercury Rd., Lake Forest, (949) 458-0318.

At the swinging eatery beneath the shadow of the Ronald Reagan Federal Building called JASON'S DOWNTOWN, come for the music, stay for the bastilla. Jason's nod to Moroccan pigeon pie uses chicken, but it's just as complex, packed with slivered almonds and dusted with sugar and cinnamon. And for $15, it's ridiculously big—as wide as a steering wheel and as thick as a dictionary. Got a friend? It's enough for both of you. 416 W. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 347-1122; www.jasonsdowntown.com.

Menudo is meant to be eaten by a group, not a lone diner. And $15 worth of menudo at EL CAMINO REAL will nourish a small army, the broth perfectly spicy, the tripe as deliciously chewy as al dente pasta. Available only on weekends, and bring your own pot so you can take the soup home. And get over the whole cow-stomach thing—we're in a recession, remember? 303 N. Euclid St., Fullerton, (714) 447-3962.


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